Opportunity Knocks


Steve Freese, President and CEO

As you read this month’s column, significant changes are taking hold in state and federal government.

Here in Wisconsin we have divided government for the first time since 2011, when Republicans assumed the majority in both legislative houses and took the governor’s office as a result of the 2010 elections. For at least the next two years, the new Democratic Governor and the Republican Legislature will be vying to assert their roles.

In Washington, D.C., government is also divided but not to such a dramatic extent as was widely predicted before last fall’s elections. Partisan control of the House of Representatives changed pretty much in accordance with historical norms when a party in power faces its first midterm election, as 39 seats shifted from the Republicans to form a new Democratic majority. Movement in the Senate was in the opposite direction; Republicans actually grew their majority by two seats. (Two incumbent Republicans and four incumbent Democrats were defeated.)

This sends a distinctly mixed message to policy makers, and I believe it gives “we the people” an opportunity to press for bipartisan cooperation on issues like infrastructure improvements, rural broadband deployment, and strengthening resilience of the electric grid, to name a few. These have the clear potential to be bipartisan issues that tend to break less on party lines than on geography. The door should be open for us here in Wisconsin to work with our members of congress advancing policies that make the most sense for our rural communities and electric cooperatives.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) and your statewide association (WECA) have positioned us well over the years. Analysis of groups with energy-related interests has shown the electric cooperatives have a strong, positive reputation among federal lawmakers of both political parties. That contrasts with other energy interests who tend to enjoy good will more firmly linked with one party or the other. The major factor making this possible for our co-ops is that “our political center of gravity”—as NRECA CEO Jim Matheson said at our statewide annual meeting last November—“is not in Washington, D.C., it’s in the communities we serve—the legislators’ constituents—and legislators understand that.”

Nobody is going to see the challenge of governing this state or this nation get easier because of the changes ushered in by the last election, and your co-op organizations have our work cut out for us. But now is the time to test the appetite for bipartisan cooperation among state and federal lawmakers who often say that’s what the country is hungry for.

I’ve mentioned a few issues we can work on nationally. Here in Wisconsin there’s been a deadlock over transportation funding, a nagging and unpopular issue that typically resists solutions when responsibility would fall entirely on one party. We now have an opportunity to promote a bipartisan approach sharing responsibility between the Democratic executive and Republican legislative branches.

I hope over the coming months we’ll be asking for your help in persuading our divided government to cooperate in initiatives that benefit your family, community, and electric cooperative.